President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general with deep experience in the Middle East, t0 become the first Black secretary of defense, according to multiple reports.
The selection of Austin, who has only been out of uniform for four years, would require a waiver from Congress to bypass legal requirements for keeping the Pentagon under civilian control. That would continue a pattern established by President Trump in 2017, when Trump selected Austin’s predecessor at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Ret. Gen. James Mattis, for the position.
Austin’s tenure in uniform is likely to prompt sharp questioning from the Senate. As the final commander of the 2003-11 occupation of Iraq, he favored a large residual force of 24,000 troops, something both the Obama administration and the Iraqi parliament considered untenable. Advocacy of a residual force could become a factor next year, as the U.S. is committed through a deal with the Taliban to withdraw from Afghanistan entirely by May 2021.
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